Is the DNC Chair Race Becoming A Disgrace?

Just as it’s dishonest for apparent supporters of Democratic National Committee chairmanship candidate Keith Ellison to smear fellow candidate Tom Perez as a toady of the “establishment,” it’s equally dishonest for apparent supporters of Perez to demonize Ellison as some crypto-anti-Semite. The pro-Perez folks keep dredging up Ellison’s history with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, even though Ellison long ago severed ties with Farrakhan:

In a lengthy letter to the Conservative movement’s rabbinical arm, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison said he regretted past positions that have unsettled Jews as he seeks the chairmanship of the Democratic Party…

Ellison, beginning his three-page letter to the Rabbinical Assembly with a quote from Pirkei Avot, Jewish ethical teachings – “The one who learns, learns from everyone” – expressed regrets, as he has several times since launching his bid to lead the DNC, for his association years ago with the anti-Semitic Nation of Islam.

“At the time, I did not grasp [Louis] Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism,” he wrote, referring to the movement’s leader.

“It was difficult for me to see that the struggle for equality for African Americans could be subverted into hatred of others, specifically anti-Semitism,” Ellison wrote. “I focused on Farrakhan speaking to concerns of Black men. When I became aware that he made hateful statements about other groups, including the Jewish community with whom I was so close, I knew that I must reject his teachings. And I rejected them completely.”

To suggest that Ellison is an anti-Semite is to suggest that Senators Bernie Sanders and Chuck Schumer, both of whom have endorsed Ellison’s candidacy, are trafficking in a form of self-loathing, that they are the Democratic equivalents of Ben Carson. Do members of the anti-Ellison crowd really think Sens. Sanders and Schumer–and others who are defending Ellison against allegations of anti-Semitism–are that sick?

After then-Presidential candidate Barack Obama disavowed the views of Rev. Jeremiah Wright in 2008, it would have been offensive to suggest that Obama secretly still agreed with the guy who said “God damn America!” It’s equally offensive to suggest that Ellison still shares Farrakhan’s view of the world.

Neither Ellison nor Perez deserve to be targeted with silly smears. Both men are highly intelligent, highly qualified, committed progressives who have the talent necessary to reinvigorate the Democratic Party in the post-Obama era. It’s one thing for Ellison enthusiasts to suggest that he’s preferable to Perez; it’s quite another to dishonestly assert that Perez is some hack who can’t want to kiss up to special interests. Similarly, it’s one thing to Perez partisans to argue that he might be more suited to lead than Ellison; it’s quite another to contend that Ellison is an anti-Semitic bigot.

The race for the DNC chairmanship should not devolve into this sort of foolishness. If Perez wins next month, he will not be a lackey of the “Establishment”; if Ellison wins, he will not scorn Jewish members of the Democratic coalition. Let’s hope this silliness ends soon, and that the eventual winner receives the full support of those who backed the defeated candidate. Democrats won’t be able to fight Donald Trump and Mike Pence if they can’t figure out a way to put a stop to this nonsense.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.